Review: Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant ‘Sèances’

Eighteen years is certainly a long gap between releases and 2004’s Sister Phantom Owl Fish was the last time Trevor Dunn released an album under the Trio-Convulsant moniker. That doesn’t mean he’s been idle in those intervening years. Far from it. As well as continuing his long involvement in rock/metal bands Mr. Bungle, Fantômas and Tomahawk, he’s also experimented with trios, string quartets and put out chamber music too. That’s to say nothing of his numerous guest appearances and side-man roles with everyone from extreme sax guru John Zorn to critically acclaimed jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman. Sèances though is very much Dunn‘s baby and one that he expertly nurtures.

Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant 'Sèances'

From the outset, it’s clear he’s been busy recruiting all manner of musicians to lend ammo to his experimental arsenal. Joining him once more are Mary Halvorson on guitar and Ches Smith on drums, but the trio has expanded to a septet on this release. Strings come courtesy of composer and multi-instrumentalist Carla Kihlstedt, alto-sax guru Oscar Noriega covers clarinet duties, Mariel Roberts is fresh off her solo album on cello and Anna Webber takes a break from her big band duties to contribute flute.

From its outset, the album quite fittingly sounds like this eclectic and supremely talented collection of musicians prepared for it by sitting in a hushed circle, hands linked, summoning the ghost of Prokofiev, as the haunting flute patterns of Secours Meurtriers weave their way over a twisted musical landscape.

It’s not long before the strings make their presence known. The inclusion of violin in the ensemble instantly reminds me of Mahavishnu Orchestra, though Dunn would may well baulk at that (forgive my somewhat limited exposure to avant-garde jazz outfits Trev!) Indeed, this is a world away from the prolific four-stringer’s more metal-centric output that many reading this review will likely be more familiar with. The spectre of Mr. Bungle still hovers about hopefully in the background thanks to some occasional heavy guitar, but this is so far removed from My Ass Is On Fire that it’s erm, not funny.

This is seriously experimental stuff with no threat of a straight beat, and it stands firm as a testament to Dunn’s serious chops and doubtless respect within the jazz community…

Experimental bands sometimes throw the term ‘jazz’ around just because they have a couple of odd time signatures and untraditional chord structures, but make no mistake, this is not one of those occasions. This is seriously experimental stuff with no threat of a straight beat, and it stands firm as a testament to Dunn‘s serious chops and doubtless respect within the jazz community.

Indeed, the juxtaposition of rhythm and melody makes the album a tough and demanding listen when it’s at its most frenetic, for example on second track Saint-Médard, which actually deceives us with about half a bar of 4/4 before going off on one. Eschatology is another track that’s particularly experimental, with so much going on in places that it’s difficult to digest.

However, the album also contains some more subdued pieces and passages that are incredibly filmic in places, and loaded with atmosphere. Restore All Things turns particularly sinister halfway through and is heavy with foreboding. The epic 1733 has, dare I say it, a riff at the start, albeit one that’s played on strings and backed up by guitar, and is another track which gives way to moody brooding, just when you think it’s played its hand.

Throughout the album, repeated patterns are there if you look for them, becoming more apparent on multiple listens. It’s a clear indication of the care and creative imagination that’s gone into writing this record, which, while not for everyone, is a captivating showcase of ability and creativity.

Label: Pyroclastic Records
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Scribed by: Simon Brotherton